Okumura Toshinobu 奥村利信 (act. c. 1717-1740s)
Actor Yamashita Kinsaku I as Tora Gozen
(Ōiso no Tora Yamashita Kinsaku 大磯のとら 山下金作)

Japan, Edo period (1615-1868), mid 1720s
Woodblock print; ink on paper with hand Gift of James A. Michener, 1971

The artist Toshinobu here depicts the wakashū actor Yamashita Kinsaku I (d. 1750) as Ōiso no Tora, known also as Tora Gozen (b. 1175), a courtesan of the Chōtei brothel in Ōiso, Sagami Province (modern-day Kanagawa Prefecture). Tora’s lover, the warrior Soga Jūrō Sukenari (1172-1193), sought to avenge his father’s murder, and, according to historical accounts, after Sukenari died in an unsuccessful attack against the murderer, Tora became a nun and spent the remainder of her life praying for the repose of her lover’s soul.

As the legend of this historical figure developed popularity during the Edo period, however, the character’s depiction in Kabuki plays gradually transformed into that of a wrathful avenger who, along with her female companion Kewaizaka no Shōshō, hunts down and executes Sukenari’s enemies after his death. Here, Toshinobu’s figure displays neither heartache nor rage; the image instead exudes a sense of vitality and elegance due to the artist’s elaborate composition and sumptuous use of color.

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